Race Policy Inequality

Defunding the police isn’t as radical as you might think

The Breakdown is a Tempest exclusive series that attempts to tackle issues, concepts, terms, and histories that are relevant and intrinsic to conversations about social justice. This is our version of a 101 on Social Justice, with a grassroot level approach that hopes to simplify and make political and cultural conversations accessible in a global level.

Even though the conversations around Black Lives Matter has existed since 2013, it has increasingly been in the news lately in response to the unjust deaths of Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, and George Floyd. Protests and calls to defund the police have ensued nationwide as conversations about police brutality are finally happening. However, reactions to “defund the police” have been mixed at best. Former President Barack Obama recently commented that the slogan “defund the police” is too snappy and that activists should rephrase the slogan to something less radical. So, what exactly is defunding the police?

Opponents of Black Lives Matter will have you believe that defunding the police is dissolving the entire police force to create a state of anarchy in the US in which crime rules all. However, defunding the police is actually a strategic plan to shift police funding to social services that can improve mental health, poverty, drug addiction, and homelessness, i.e. the primary motivators for crime in low SES areas. 

By addressing the causes of crime, rather than the results of it, communities can become safer, lightening the workload of police officers. Data shows that 9 out of 10 police calls are for non-violent events. Mental health calls compose about 1 out of 10 police calls. However, 1 in 4 deaths from police shootings represent people with mental illnesses. 

In cases of mental health, psychologists and mental health therapists are much better equipped to respond than police officers. Police officers are not trained to handle mental health issues in the manner that licensed therapists are. By pushing all of the wrongs of society onto police officers, we have dramatically diluted society’s ability to actually deal with the root of these issues. 

Under the defunded model, police forces will still exist. They will just deal with more heinous crimes such as murder, sexual assault, and violent crimes, which is what they are trained to do. By reducing the burden on police officers to deal with everything wrong with society, they can focus more on the encounters that they are tasked with handling relating to crime. For example, the 200,000 rape kits that remain unprocessed in police stations can begin to be processed now. In addition, communities of color will feel more at ease knowing that they do not have to live in constant fear of the police. The Black Lives Matter movement recognizes the benefits of the police force while recognizing that there is tremendous reform and restructuring needed within the system before it becomes remotely capable of providing safety and justice for all.

Defunding the police will provide a means to revitalize black communities, specifically those with high crime rates as a result of homelessness and poverty. It will also allow us to create more jobs by increasing the budgets of departments that promote public safety and welfare in a non-violent manner, benefitting all of society. Police officers will still be able to retain their jobs, but with a reallocated focus. Defunding the police is one of the best answers that we have right now to police brutality and crime.


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History It Happened Once

I Googled the Salem Witch Trials so you don’t have to – and they are hella confusing

As a part of our Halloween series this year, since we’ll be mentioning witches a lot, let’s talk about the Salem Witch Trials and how the events that took place do not make any sense.

Honestly, after reading a bunch about the “trials,” I still do not really understand what happened or why it happened. Suggestions about fungus causing illnesses and other analyses on political issues within Salem at the time are speculations that are often used to try to explain the trials. But, you have to admit that there are a bunch of missing pieces in the story. The whole thing sounds like complete chaos to me!

I have so many questions. Like, why did they randomly believe the claims of young girls without any true evidence? Who really thought that allowing spectral evidence was a good idea? How were the accused supposed to prove to a court that they were not actually witches? And lastly, what were the true reasons and motivations behind this tragedy?

So let me explain what all went down in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692 and 1693.  It all began when the daughter and niece of Reverend Samuel Parris, the minister of Salem Village, began having violent fits, intense contortions, and uncontrollable outbursts such as screaming. After a local doctor in Salem could not find anything physically wrong with 9-year-old Elizabeth Parris an 11-year-old Abigail Williams, he diagnosed them and other young girls within the community that showed similar behaviors and symptoms with bewitchment. This first diagnosis of witchcraft led to the imprisonment of over 200 people and 20 hangings throughout Massachusetts.

Puritan pioneers first settled in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1630. During this time, the Puritan communities established their own theocratic government systems. Theocracy is a form of government largely led and structured by those who believed to be divinely guided. The government and legal system are structured based on religious law.

You still with me?

The Puritans believed that the Devil could give individuals on Earth powers in return for their loyalty. (and that isn’t even the most ridiculous claim) Those who received powers from the Devil were called witches. The principle of witchcraft became prevalent in 14th century Europe, where between the 1300s and 1600s, thousands of people, the majority being women, were executed for accusations of witchcraft. Under the legal structure in Salem, an individual who consorted with the Devil was considered a criminal. The punishment for committing such a crime was hanging, yikes!

During the time of the Salem Witch Trials, the community was stressed and struggling. The King William’s War put a strain on the community’s resources. Additionally, there was a rivalry between wealthy families and the working class that depended on forms of agriculture. There was also an on-going smallpox epidemic and fear of attack from neighboring Native Americans. The stressful and anxiety-fueled climate of the community led to ongoing tensions and suspicions among the Puritan villagers.

After the diagnosis of bewitchment, a few of the “bewitched” young girls blamed three women for bewitching them. The first is Tituba, an enslaved woman from the Caribbean bought by the Reverend Parris. The second woman was Sarah Good, a homeless beggar.  And lastly, an impoverished elderly woman named Sarah Osborne. Of course, all three of the accused women were considered “outsiders” based on race and/or class. (Is anyone shocked?)

It remains unclear if the girls were persuaded or forced to accuse these three women. However, I think that the social statuses and positions of the women in society should be considered when trying to interpret the potential reasons that these three women in particular were actually accused of the crime of witchcraft.

This is where the whole thing launched full speed into a downward spiral to me. The imprisonment of the three women led to further paranoia in a society that already suffered from numerous stresses. Good and Osborne claimed that they were not guilty; while Tituba confessed and named other witches who were working along with her against the Puritans to receive repentance. In response to Tituba claiming other individuals were also practicing witchcraft, the governor of Massachusetts ordered the establishment of the Court of Oyer and Terminer to pass judgment on witchcraft cases.

The accusations of witchcraft continued to spread across the Massachusetts colonies against mostly women and a few men (which I did not know). Similarly to Tituba, those accused confessed and named others who practiced witchcraft. The court allowed testimony based on spectral evidence. This refers to evidence that is based on visions, dreams, and a person’s spirit. The testimony was based on witnesses claiming that they interacted with or saw a person’s spirit, in place of basing testimony on a person’s physical actions. The trails lacked focus on truth and investigation. Under religious practices, the courts preferred that the accused confessed, asked for forgiveness, and vowed to not engage with the Devil again.

After years and the (unlawful) deaths and imprisonment of so many people, the Court of Oyer and Terminer was finally replaced with the Superior Court of Judicature, the testimony of spectral evidence was no longer allowed, and the trials were deemed unlawful. In 1697, the General Court ordered a day of fasting and soul-searching due to the events that had occurred during the trials. Additionally, in 1711, the families affected received reinstitution and the restoration of the names. However, it was not until the 1950s that Massachusetts formally apologized for the event.

The whole story is definitely a lot to digest, but it did give me a lot to think about.

While many aspects of the Salem Witch Trails are perplexing, within this tragedy remains lessons that should be reflected on and questioned today. It remains crucial to have objectivity, to think about the consequences of unjustly punishing individuals, to be cautious of the use of fear within the justice system, and to foresee the damages of groupthink going unquestioned.

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USA Politics The World

The term ‘F***ing B***h’ exemplifies a concerning pattern of misogyny in Congress

I was going to start this piece with ‘It’s 2020, and women still aren’t being given the respect that they deserve’ but I think that’s redundant. The truth is is that no matter the year, it seems that women will always have to endure the abuse from men who are threatened by their power.

It goes without saying that the election of Alexandria Ocasio Cortez alongside other prominent Democrats like Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, and Debra Haaland has caused ripples throughout the House of Representatives in the US. On the Republican side of the House, many representatives have gone so far as to bristle at the comments made by the youngest ever, and Latina, representative, Alexandria Ocasio Cortez.

Recently, AOC received ‘criticism’ for her comments made regarding her own district—New York’s 14th District, which includes the Eastern part of the Bronx and portions of North-Central Queens in New York City, representing roughly 650,000 people. When addressing a rise in crime, AOC attributed this to people’s desperation to feed their families in an increasingly dangerous and uncertain USA.

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One of her critics was Rep. Ted Yoho, a Congressman from Florida. He is white, male, straight, cis, and middle-aged. And, like many of his conservative colleagues, he detests the idea that women like AOC would dare to take a seat in the same House which he resides.

In fact, the very idea that there are women in the House who not only represent, but also stand up for and defend the existence and livelihoods of minority people is beyond far fetched for people like Rep. Yoho. Especially for congressmen who have never even gone so far as to imagine that in their lifetime they could work alongside people who look, act, and think nothing as they do.

So what do they do? Well, in the case of AOC, many go on to discredit her education, her past occupation as a bartender, and her background on a daily basis.

This time around, the question arose if Rep. Yoho acknowledged AOC with the respect the Congresswoman deserved? The respect any co-worker deserved? The respect he without a shadow of a doubt would have granted to a man in the same position as she?

No, of course not.

Instead, on the steps of the House he loudly and, as he would say, ‘passionately’, scoffed expletives in her direction, calling her a “fucking bitch” in front of the press. His apology, if you can call it that, was less apologetic and more of a rebuttal arguing that he cannot have said that in the way in which it was perceived because he has a wife and two daughters.

Huh? Where’s the correlation? Because I don’t see it.

I am so tired of men like this.

That is the kind of man who hides behind any woman they are related to in order to show how ‘good’ they must be. To somehow depict that they are incapable of misogyny because of their relationship to women.

Newsflash: Ted, you’re a particularly horrible person and I’m sure your daughters are ashamed of you after this incident. In absolutely no way is the word ‘bitch’ a compliment. It implies a woman who has stepped out of her limit, a woman who is vengeful.

In an attempt to reduce AOC down to a ‘bitch’, Yoho is trying to strip away her integrity, her eloquence, and her education into a sexist visual of a woman who is crazy and unreasonable. This is abuse in every sense of the word.

Not to mention that in doing so, Rep. Yoho is not only actively working to tear down AOC, but is also doing the same to young girls just like her who are looking to break down the barriers every woman faces in the world of politics.

Meanwhile, AOC’s response was nothing less than what we expected. Her oration was elegant, articulate, poised, and damn powerful. She mentioned that the words didn’t affect her.

Not because she is thick-skinned, but because it was just another day at work.

Let me repeat that: it was just another day at work.

There’s evidence of an epidemic in which if a woman dares to demand the respect she deserves, she’s met with responses like this. In almost every walk of life. If she was a man, she wouldn’t be a bitch – she’d be courageous and ambitious.

If a woman is in charge, however, then she’s considered dangerous or bossy (both words used by Rep. Yoho in the past).

My question: Why are men so threatened by strong women that they go so far as to attempt to emotionally destroy them?

Rep. Yoho mentioned that he is the father of two daughters, well what does he expect from his daughters? Does he expect them to be subordinate to men in their personal and professional life? Or does he expect them to demand the respect they deserve? Would he be fine with a man calling one of his daughters a derogatory name in a fit of passion? I’d hope not.

No one should look at his response as an apology because it wasn’t. It’s unacceptable and disgusting to hide behind the women in your life to defend your bigoted behavior.

Men, for what I hope is the last time, I am begging you to do better.


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The Internet Movies Pop Culture

It’s 2018 and the media still views sexual assault as a joke

Many of us know of the mental and physical damage that can come from gender violence. It is horrific and detrimental to women everywhere. Many men try to ignore or downplay the effects, but women continue to speak out about the attacks and how it can hurt. Yet, the media continues to perpetuate and even embrace rape culture. Why is violence against women still seen as a joke?

Over many years, the media and society have stereotyped our views on how we believe men and women ‘should’ act. Whether it’s in literature, television, magazines or even porn, women can often be represented as ‘damsels in distress’ or ‘subservient’. Men frequently show characteristics of dominance and strength, which is commonly thought of as sexy. Ironically, it’s these exact traits that can be attributed to the action of sexual assault. Within in the past decade, there is said to have been a massive 68 percent increase of rapes, with 321,500 victims (both men and women) per year within the United States. It is possible that the ‘trivialization of rape within the media has anything to do with this increase?

Even in the 21st century, sexual objectification is the standard. In 2013 there was much dispute over the song Blurred Lines by Robin Thicke. The video featured naked women dancing around provocatively. It also revealed Thicke pretending to stick a needle into a girl’s ass while she holds a lamb. Although this doesn’t directly portray sexual assault, the message can be perceived as inappropriate alongside the controversial lyrics of ‘I know you want it’, that isn’t exactly delivering vibes of consent.

Even back in 1993 one of the world’s most well-known bands, Nirvana, released a song titled ‘rape me’ that contains the lyrics “rape me, rape me, my friend.’ Now I don’t believe the singer was referring to the act of violence literally within in the song, but using sexual assault as a metaphor. However, why? Why use the word ‘rape’ at all? The fact that the term is being used in that manner almost feels as if the concept is being trivialized. It’s a sad indictment on society when making remarks and/or jokes about abusing women has become the ‘norm’.

There are an alarming amount of sexual assault memes that not only exist but manage to go viral. Tweets asking others which celebrity they’re most likely to rape. It’s actually really quite despicable when you think about it.

There are also several television shows that address violence against women, most of them using it not to educate others, but as nothing more than a plot point. There is no lesson learned, it is just another woman being forced to endure trauma for no other reason than to attract viewers. Game of Thrones, for example, televises at least a small handful of rape scenes per season, yet very little of them are shown in ways that justify just how traumatic and serious it is. It is never addressed again. There is no consideration of how that would then mentally affect the character afterward.

We can’t ignore the inappropriate jokes that get made when it comes to television sitcoms. For instance, the television sitcom Two Broke Girls made five, yes FIVE rape jokes in one season. When did that become normal? Why have we as a society deemed this acceptable? It almost feels as if the notion of sexual assault is getting used purely for entertainment purposes.

I don’t know when (or why) it became acceptable to belittle, incorrectly portray, and joke about rape but is the media to blame as to why this truly disgraceful crime has become more common? Whether it’s men in power saying stuff like ‘Grab them by the pussy’ or the fact that anyone, regardless of age can access some rather brutal porn clips at the drop of a hat, it seems that rape culture is everywhere we look these days. So, must we blame the media’s dismissive conduct for the increase in sexual assault and rape?

Editor's Picks World News Politics The World

Taking photos up a girl’s skirt is totally legal in Texas, judge says

Upskirting is a form of sexual violence where an individual takes a photo up another person’s (primarily a woman’s) skirt without their consent.

Celebrities, such as Emma Watson and Cara Delevingne, have called out paparazzi for taking upskirt photos of them, and countless other women have had these inappropriate photos of them taken as well. Now, the United Kingdom (England and Wales) are working to pass a resolution through Parliment that would make upskirting a crime punishable by up to two years in prison.

The campaign to make upskirting a criminal offense in the UK began being pushed for by UK citizen Gina Martin and other women who have been a victim of upskirting. Martin had upskirt photos taken of her in 2017, but police did not prosecute the offense because they deemed the photos “not obscene enough” to fall under the UK’s voyeurism laws. Under the current law, upskirting has to be prosecuted alongside other offenses in the category of voyeurism, even though there are gaps in the current laws that allow the crime to go unpunished.

Due to the gaps, there have only been 11 charges made under the law since 2015, according to information obtained from a Freedom of Information Act request. Additionally, less than half of the police stations in the UK keep appropriate records of how many reports of upskirting have been made, which means there is no way to accurately assess how pervasive the issue of taking upskirt photos might be within the UK.

The first attempt to pass the bill that would have made taking upskirt photographs illegal failed in Parliament due to an objection from one of the members of Parliament; however, a new bill is being introduced and it is believed that progress will be made towards the bill before Parliament recesses for the summer.

According to TIME, the new bill will again be debated on July 6 in the House of Commons, and hopefully this time, there will be no objections to the measure.

The bill being brought forth will protect both women and men, as it includes provisions that make it illegal to photograph up men’s kilts as well. Hopefully, the decision from the UK to make this serious sexual offense its own separate crime will help inspire other countries to follow suit.

In the United States, there are no laws on the federal books that make upskirting a crime, which means that the States are left to determine if upskirting is a crime in its jurisdiction and what the punishment should be. This leaves a lot of variety in criminality and leaves millions unprotected against upskirt photos.

For example, we can look to 2014 decisions on upskirting that took place in Massachusetts and Texas. When Massachusetts State legislators realized there were no laws that protected against upskirting, they passed a measure that made taking upskirt photographs punishable by up to two years in prison and a fine that was to be determined by the age of the victim.

In Texas, however, a Texas court determined that its citizens had a constitutional right to take upskirt photos under “freedom of speech” protections. Whether that decision would hold up in a higher court is yet to be determined, but the lack of federal regulation leaves millions of women (and men) at risk of having no protection against these inappropriate photographs.

Upskirting is a serious offense, and it is unbelievable that in the digital age, the legal system hasn’t evolved yet to address the nature of this cybercrime.

Thankfully, the UK is taking the first steps in order to punish those who commit this crime. We don’t know when the US will follow.

USA Politics Race The World Policy

If the “Blue Lives Matter” bills pass, it’ll be easier for cops to end Black lives

Last Wednesday, the House of Representatives passed the “Protect and Serve Act of 2018.”

The euphemistically named bill offers protections modeled on hate crimes laws to police officers. Harming a police officer is already a federal crime, and laws enhancing penalties for violence against police are already on the books in all 50 states. So if all these protections already exist, what purpose does the “Protect and Serve Act” really serve? 

Well, according to the ACLU, “It serves no purpose other than to further dangerous and divisive narratives that there is a ‘war on police’.” The ACLU also points out that hate crimes laws were specifically designed to provide justice to people who were often denied it, people from marginalized groups in society. They were meant to protect people based on immutable characteristics, such as race, gender, sexual orientation, or disability.

The US first began to enact hate crimes bills in the wake of the Civil Rights movement, when violence against people of color often went unpunished, as white jurors voted to acquit white defendants accused of crimes against Black Americans in particular. It was a way to take judgment out of the hands of the accused’s white sympathetic friends and neighbors and achieve some measure of justice by putting it in the hands of a federal jury. It was a way to finally start taking violence based on prejudice seriously in a country that has so often enabled or ignored that violence.  

In contrast, violence against police is already being taken seriously.

It leads to manhunts and lengthy prison sentences or the death penalty, not to jury nullifications and impunity. On the contrary, the real impunity is often enjoyed by police officers who have assaulted and/or killed civilians and rarely face charges. While the people currently protected by hate crime legislation are the victims of targeted violence, police are often its perpetrators, harassing, brutalizing, and killing disproportionate numbers of people of color.

The federal “Protect and Serve Act” is similar to a number of bills that have been circulating the country in state legislatures. These “Blue Lives Matter” bills, as they are often called, are a reaction to the calls for police accountability by Black Lives matter and other activist groups. They’re meant to cast the police as a targeted minority, despite the fact that actual violence against police is near record lows. And they are meant to implicitly link that Black activism against police brutality to an invented surge in violence against police when the reality is that the majority of people who do attack and kill cops are white and often associated with far-right groups.

Some critics have said the “Protect and Serve Act” is a “solution in search of a problem,” given the relatively low levels of violence against police officers in recent years. The truth is, it’s worse than that. The false narrative of the war on cops reinforces a mentality that leads them to view the communities they should be serving as enemies. It makes them feel more justified in enacting precisely the violence that Black Lives Matter and other anti-brutality activists are trying to stop. And Republicans and Democrats alike in the House of Representatives just lined up to vote for it.

The next step is for the Senate to consider their version of the bill, which civil rights groups believe is even worse.

If it gets past that stage, there’s little doubt Trump would sign it into law.  So let’s not let it get that far. Call your Senators and tell them not to pass any version of this bill. For help on talking points, check out the first part of Human Rights Watch’s letter about the Protect and Serve Act of 2018.

USA World News The World Inequality

On April 3rd and every other day, we are vowing to love a Muslim

April 3, 2018, and every April 3rd after that shall now be known as #loveamuslim day.

A day where we highlight religious freedom and a hopeful end to xenophobia after leaflets were spread around the East London area of the UK calling for xenophobes and racists alike to use this day to “punish” Muslims for their religious beliefs. Muslims and allies decided to strike  back against such gross hatred with the hashtag “love a Muslim day.” On this day we aim to not only to stand by Muslims and protect them against hate but also to listen. To listen to their stories and not silence their voices with our own ideas of martyrdom and allyship. Religious persecution has pervaded our globe for far too long and it’s time to put an end to it all.

This leaflet that was spread around the streets of London and sent to people’s homes indicated a system where people could commit hate crimes for points. Points that had no meaning or value but could be earned for committing hate crimes like ripping off hijabs or “butchering Muslims with knives or vehicles.” It encouraged people to not be sheep and let “them”, meaning Muslims, overwhelm the white majority while simultaneously encouraging herd behavior by following the leaflets ideology.

It can be easy to just write this off as hate speech and think that Muslims have nothing to fear, and I wish that were factual but xenophobia is a global issue and isn’t going anywhere. Just in the UK alone, rates have increased by 40% reports the Guardian and in 2017 there was an average of 38 hate crimes daily. These are terrifying numbers that only mildly highlight the pervasive nature of this issue. With Trump’s “travel” ban that clearly targeted brown countries that were predominately Muslim and real hijabi women getting acid thrown in their faces almost every day, a stunt like this is far from funny or cute.

It’s time we begin to recognize the xenophobia in our everyday lives that are pushing this rhetoric and hateful ideology. It’s in our laws, our social ideology and even our media. Like the Disney movie Aladdin that pretends to be some inclusive movie but subtly portrays Muslim dominated countries as barbaric and misogynistic. I just find it so hypocritical for us to constantly condemn Nazis for their hate but refuse to see the very same actions in our own xenophobia. Real people are dying due to their religious beliefs. This is blatant religious persecution in addition to being incredibly racist for targeting those who “look Muslim” when Islam does not have a face.

It’s tiring.

So today we stick a huge middle finger to the hate and stand with Muslims against those who only want to inspire hate and death. I know that no matter the day I will be sure to use my voice to protect those who need it most as long as I have the privilege to do so.  It’s also important to remember that the best way for you to #loveamuslim is to ensure that these acts of kindness are not just a one time thing. This should be a part of our everyday lives because Muslims are targeted every single day, whether it’s an official hate day or not. It’s also important to remember that being an ally is not your chance to speak over a narrative or claim a moment for martyrdom.

We need to step aside and let Muslims have a voice and control the narrative about their communities, all the while supporting them through it all.

Politics The World

If you haven’t already – you really need to stop listening to R. Kelly

If you follow music or news at all, you have probably heard of the recent R. Kelly “cult” allegations. If not, you can read all the details here.

Essentially, the 50-year-old singer has been accused of holding several young women against their will in a cult-like scenario where he controls every aspect of their lives (food, clothing, sex, who they have contact with, etc.). The women’s parents are now coming forward with details, among them how their daughters entered the relationship with R. Kelly and how often they had been heard from.

Three other women, former members of his “inner-circle,” are also detailing the horrible living conditions and emotional abuse they were put through in their time with him. The reports are disturbing, especially when you know the singer for his smooth and popular songs like, “I Believe I Can Fly.”

However, allegations like this aren’t new for R. Kelly. He’s had a history of court cases for marrying a 15-year-old, battery charges, several incidents of underage sexual relationships, and child pornography. With all his money and the excuse of insufficient evidence, he managed to get through all this cleanly.

I didn’t know about this history before, but, to be honest, I’m not surprised. We have a history of letting celebrities get away with their actions, usually without apologies.

Bill Cosby, Akon, Chris Brown, Michael Jackson, Casey Affleck, Woody Allen…

You get the point.

Most of us know about the accusations made against these men, and yet we choose to ignore them. Even if we don’t support the celebrity himself, we still support their art, which, by default, supports the artist. It can be hard to let go of your favorite songs or movies just because the person who made it was involved in some scandal we’re really not sure about. It’s easier to jam out to R. Kelly’s “Ignition” with your friends, turning the lyrics into meaningless words, and forgetting that this man is an emotional and sexual abuser.

Think about it this way: the more we support these artists, the richer they get, the more fame attached to their name, and the more they are allowed to get away with anything. A lot of celebrities can pay their way out of their messes. Even if they don’t get away with their crimes, they still have the support of their fans, are allowed a comeback, and a pass to do it all again.

This is what we’re seeing with R. Kelly.

There are always arguments supporting the celebrities. In this specific case, people are saying that the women involved with Kelly are now all adults, that this is a consensual relationship. One of the women came out to say that she’s fine, so why can’t we just let it go?

Firstly, we don’t know if she was forced to say that, especially regarding the conditions she’s in. Even if she wasn’t, that is what cult psychology does to a person

Kitti Jones, one of the former insiders, recalled her relationship with Kelly to Buzzfeed, “I got trapped. I had people telling me I was an idiot. But it took me a long time to realize they were right, and I’m talking now because I hope I can help some of these other girls.”

If the parents’ desperate plea for help isn’t enough to convince you, then understand that in cults, victims are toyed with emotionally and given promises anyone can fall for, even if they are unhappy. Just because a relationship/group involvement is consensual does not make it right. The people who died in Jonestown died consensually.

And, anyway, these sorts of defenses come up with every allegation against a celebrity (and any abuse case, really). It’s just easier to let your conscience rest with one of these excuses so you can continue consuming the celebrity’s art.

But we need to start holding them accountable beyond a week-long scandal. Not just for the women in those specific cases but also for the survivors of sexual abuse everywhere.

If Kelly had been stopped before, if his defamation had been taken more seriously the first, second, and third times around, maybe these women wouldn’t have found themselves in the situation they’re in.

The first step to holding celebrities accountable is for the law to stop letting them get away with their actions (which hasn’t been helpful so far). The second is for other celebrities to stop collaborating with and supporting them (which does not seem likely).

The third step is up to you – the fans, the consumers.

Stop supporting these predators and making their actions normal. They’re not, and we definitely shouldn’t be singing about it in the car with our friends.

Politics The World

There’s one kind of face behind rape in America today, and we need to stop ignoring that

The United States Justice Department defines sexual assault as “any type of sexual conduct or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient.” This seems like a fairly straightforward definition, and because it’s labelled as illegal, it should be easy to confirm occurrences.

But it’s not.

Sex is an interesting topic, in part because it’s so taboo. That feeling of the forbidden has crossed our cultural lines and invaded our justice system as well. The way assault and rape cases are treated in the US are heavily dependent on the individuals dealing with them. Some of the more shocking cases make the news, such as the infamous Brock Turner case, Bill Cosby, or even President Donald Trump.

However, the one prevailing facet of all of those cases seems to be the same: the victim faces the harsh reality of their abuser or rapist getting away with it. Many times, even if the abuser is sentenced, the punishment feels unbelievably light.

The United States has a serious problem with white male privilege – and this is especially prevalent when it comes to some of the most famous cases in recent years.

Case Study 1: The Notorious Brock Turner


Everyone’s heard about this case. It was the one where the media thought it was relevant to print Turner’s swimming scores next to the story about how he tried to rape someone.

Turner was, at the time, accused of sexually assaulting and attempting to rape an unconscious victim after a college party. For unknown reasons, the fact that he was a swimmer at Stanford was also a notable facet of the story. This betrays something insidious in our culture – that the perpetrator of a crime still has value to society, and therefore his crime is forgivable. Turner’s parents also made headlines when they wrote a letter to the judge, asking for a light sentence.

Turner, in his statements, blamed alcohol and promiscuity for his own actions. In other words, Turner, nor his family, ever felt the need to accept any kind of responsibility. It couldn’t be his fault because he was a good kid otherwise.

To top it off, Turner served 3 months of jail time, after being convicted of 3 charges of rape. He should have been in jail for years, not weeks. Meanwhile, the victim will deal with the repercussions for the rest of her life.

Case Study 2: Austin Wilkerson, Part-Time Inmate, and Student 


A less heard-of case, Wilkerson was a male student from the University of Colorado who assaulted and raped a fellow college student. She drank too much at a party, Wilkerson told her and friends that he would help her, and then he raped her as she drifted in and out of consciousness.

He should have faced a minimum of 4 years in jail for this crime, but instead, he might only have to stay in jail on some weekends, as long as he isn’t working. Instead of being sentenced for jail the way most people are, Wilkerson will be on a jail time, work-release program.

Keep in mind that this man actually raped someone. He is facing almost no consequences for it. He will have to spend the night in an uncomfortable place and register as a sex offender. Meanwhile, his victim will, again, deal with the repercussions for the rest of her life.

Case Study 3: Donald Trump, President of the Freaking USA 


Of all the people that could be on this list, and there are quite a few, there is no way to ignore the current President of the United States. A man accused of rape and sexual assault, and who was caught on video talking about sexual assault, has ascended to the highest position of power in our country.

Think about that.

Brock Turner was “just a kid”. Bill Cosby was “a troubled star with too much money and not enough discipline”. What did Trump have? What excuse could he possibly come up with to combat a video of himself where he stated that he would “grab ‘em by the p*ssy”? You would think that he’d have to prove that it was a fake video in order to get elected President, but he didn’t.

It simply didn’t matter that he had said that. It didn’t matter that numerous women had accused him of assault or that his former wife had testified in court that he had raped her (a statement she has since retracted). The outrage over his remarks, the alleged sexual assaults, and the rape absolutely should have been enough to prevent him from winning the Presidency.

Yeah, so? Think you’ve heard all this before?

I don’t care if you’ve heard this before – it must be said again. And again. Because honestly, things are only getting worse.

Take the recent Tennessee case in which a 15-year-old girl was kidnapped by her high school teacher, a Mr. Tad Cummins. Tennessee’s kidnapping law is incredibly loose in regards to girls that age. Why is this? Unfortunately, it’s possible that Cummins could be found not guilty if his victim, Elizabeth, says she left with him of her own accord.

Our culture has clearly done so little to make young people, both women and men alike, understand that these actions are not defensible or acceptable. Sexual assault can leave lasting emotional trauma that can even remain dormant until later in life. Yet, sexual assault and abuse cases oftentimes do not make it very far, and there is very little closure or comfort for the victim.

If anything, sexual abuse lawsuits should be heavier in cases like this one. It can’t change what happened, but imposing consequences on a criminal might at least spare others the pain of experiencing the same trauma. Our courts need to be taking these cases much more seriously than they currently do.

However, the best outcome that we can strive for is to stop sexual abuse and assault before it happens. We need to be talking to children so that we can raise a generation that advocates for sexual safety and respect. There’s still so much we need to do as a society, and we can start by shifting the focus of a crime away from the perpetrator’s consequences and towards looking at the consequences for the victim.

Check out The Tempest’s ongoing coverage on sexual assault  nationwide and across the world. 

Tech Now + Beyond

5 life-saving tips to keep your iPhone safe from hackers

This past August, those fears were realized when the Israeli hacking firm NSO Group broke through iPhone security.

United Arab Emirate dissident Ahmed Mansoor reported the hack when he received a suspicious text message with a link to an unknown website. Mansoor forwarded the message to cybersecurity groups Lookout Security and Citizen Lab where the teams determined that the link could hack into iPhones. The link was eventually traced back to NSO Group, a US-funded and Israel-based hacking group that offers spying services to governments. NSO Group includes many former members of United 8200, Israel’s military cyber division, motivated by a desire to prevent crime and terrorism.

For those of us who keep so much of our private information on our iPhones, the hack raises more than a few concerns.

NSO Group’s hack allowed the organization to read iPhone text messages and emails, record sounds, collect passwords, and track calls and user location. That’s a bit freaky. Not to mention a bad omen for what lies ahead for cybersecurity.

If you’re just as nervous about the future of technology as we were when we heard this news, take a deep breath. There’s plenty you can do to protect your information with little effort.

1. Stay current with your phone.

Make sure to backup and update your phone often! Backing up your phone will help keep extra copies of all important information (in case you are hacked and happen to lose any data). Plus, updating your phone regularly will help you stay on top of recent security.

When NSO Group tried to hack Mansoor’s phone, Apple created a security patch within 10 days. That’s the kind of update you want to stay up-to-date with!

2. Trust your gut when it comes to wifi networks.

Keep an eye on the wifi and bluetooth networks you’re connecting to, and when in doubt, disconnect. Hackers love to set up open wifi connections, and if your phone is set up to connect to any open network it will love those hackers back.

Pay attention to which wifi networks you’re connecting to, and what information you’re sharing over unknown connections.

3. Erase unnecessary – and important – data.

No need to keep everything on your phone. We know it’s tempting (and hard to remember to delete), but when you’re done with any important information, get rid of it. Hackers will have a whole lot less to get ahold of if you’re only holding onto the basics.

You can always back up your information on more secure devices.

4. Be careful what you click on.

Mansoor serves as a great example in this case: by not clicking on the link that the NSO Group sent him, he saved himself a load of trouble. Be cautious when following unknown links (and remember that you can hover over them to see where they’ll take you).

Hackers love to use websites that look familiar (try instead of, or instead of–so just keep a careful eye out.

5. Use a security app – but make sure it isn’t a trojan horse.

If keeping track of these rules seems too overwhelming, have no fear. There are plenty of apps out there that can monitor your phone’s security for you. For starters, check out BlackSMS or Lookout–they’ll keep tabs on your network connections and offer suggestions for improving security.

Tech companies and even national governments are keeping an eye on cybersecurity, but there’s lots you can do to take care of yourself. We might be living in a science fiction movie, but that doesn’t mean you need to be worried about a horror film ending.

Race The World Inequality

Dear media, you failed Nazma Khanam

Imagine this: a woman is stabbed and killed at 9:30pm on a Sunday evening a few blocks from your house. Her name is Nazma Khanam. Her husband is just barely behind, and catches up only in time to hold her as her life slips away.

You live in one of, if not the biggest Bangladeshi-Muslim neighborhoods in the entire country. Your parents, as always, tell you it’s not safe to go outside. Perhaps for the first time, you agree.

People on your TV are saying it was a robbery. Some of them don’t even say her name. When they come to Nazma’s headline they talk about the aunt of an NYPD transit cop who was killed on Normal Road in Jamaica, New York.

People in your streets are saying it was a hate crime. There are hundreds at her janazah service. Even the uncles are chanting in protest in front of the local masjid.

An arrest is made. The alleged murderer is identified as Yonatan Galvez-Marin, 22 years old, also living in your neighborhood. People draw parallels between Khanam’s murder and the shooting of two Muslim clerics nearby a few weeks before because both cases’ perpetrators are Hispanic.

You can stop imagining now, because you’ve probably already realized this is reality. The death of Nazma Khanam was met by a wave of ignorance – people have voluntarily omitted key parts of her identity in their efforts to report on the crime committed against her. Nazma Khanam was a Muslim immigrant from Bangladesh, where she spent years as a schoolteacher. She was married with three children.

But it seems as if we’ve reduced Khanam’s identity to just the men she was related to. Major reporters describe her first as “Muslim Officer’s Aunt” or “NYPD cop’s aunt”. Yes, it is important that we recognize Khanam’s relationships to people who are left behind, but we can’t define her and her experiences as being newsworthy solely because she was related to an NYPD officer.

Not only is it disrespectful to her memory and a kick in the face to the NYC Muslim community that has been criminalized and surveilled for years by the NYPD, but it is a carbon copy of the reaction of mass media when they disregard the race or religion of victims of violent crime and pivot around the words “hate crime”.

And of course Khanam’s murder is not the first hate crime against Muslims in the US: in only the last few weeks we’ve lost Imam Maulama Akhonjee and Thara Miah in New York, then Khalid Jabara in Tulsa, and most recently on August 31st Nazma Khanam (less than 10 miles from where Akhonjee and Miah were killed). And as investigations are going on and arrests are being made, media coverage of each individual attack has varied in its own oppressive way.

People will remember these victims by whatever the headlines said most often, and it’s an utter disgrace that Nazma Khanam could be remembered as little more than a transit cop’s aunt, and that the crime committed against her will be dubbed as a robbery gone too far, or the “parking dispute” of 2016. Say her name. Give Nazma Khanam back her autonomy and her identity.

Politics The World

Donald Trump thinks he was right about this big problem in Mexico

Unfortunately, money is power – and it definitely takes power to escape from a maximum security prison.

The escape of drug kingpin Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera from an Altiplano facility has sparked a wave of commentary on Guzmán, who is considered to be the most powerful drug trafficker in the world.

Guzmán is recognized as a top leader of the Sinaloa cartel, a multi-billion dollar, transnational business that is credited for the trafficking of 25 percent of all illegal drugs that enter the U.S. through Mexico; in the city of Chicago alone that number rises to 80 percent. “El Chapo” has been repeatedly recognized by Forbes as one of the world’s richest and most powerful people.

This is the second time Guzmán has escaped from prison since 2001, when he slipped out of the Puente Grande prison in Jalisco in a dirty-laundry cart after eight years in custody. It took thirteen years for the cartel leader to be found and captured again.

The re-awakened presence of “El Chapo”and his twisted, Robin Hood image highlights two distinct narratives on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. For the U.S., Guzmán is the summation of the general Mexican immigrant. For Mexico, countrywide poverty and corruption issues arise once more when Guzmán is placed on a perception spectrum somewhere between a terrorizer and a sort of Robin Hood.

“When will people, and the media, start to apologize to me for my statement, “Mexico is sending….”, which turned out to be true?  El Chapo,” wrote Donald Trump on Twitter on July 13.

Trump is defining an entire country composed of 31 states and a population of 126 million people on a very small sector that actively terrorizes the citizens of Mexico.

More so than participating in the active erasure of violence against the Mexican people, Trump, especially as a man with a bid for the presidency, if failing to acknowledge the presence of a relationship between the U.S. and the Sinaloa cartel.

“Mexico’s biggest drug lord escapes from jail. Unbelievable corruption and USA is paying the price.  I told you so,” he had tweeted.

This relationship includes a history of a partnership between the cartel and the DEA, the laundering of drug money by U.S. banks and failed operations that allowed roughly 2,000 weapons to be smuggled across the U.S.-Mexico border in the hands of criminals.

In 2014, El Universal reported that the U.S. government allowed the Sinaloa drug cartel to operate without consequence from 2000 to 2012 in exchange for information on rival cartels. This allowed for billions of dollars worth of illegal drugs to be smuggled into the U.S., drug violence to increase in Mexico and the immunity of notorious cartel leaders.

The Mexican newspaper investigated court documents which found that DEA officers met with Sinaloa officials more than fifty times. The negotiations led to offers by the DEA to have charges against Sinaloa members dropped in the U.S., among other agreements, a tactic that has also been used in Colombia, Cambodia, Thailand and Afghanistan.

Correlation does not mean causation, but Trump must acknowledge and think critically of the complicity in the drug war that stems from the U.S. and its relationship with the Sinaloa cartel. The more involved the DEA was, the more powerful and influential the cartel became.

When Trump brands himself as the voice of the American “silent majority,” this is alarming when it comes to the presence, representation and safety of Mexican-Americans.

What Trump and those who share these views, in believing that “El Chapo” is a pure, foolproof representation of a demonized Mexico, fail to acknowledge is the violence that Guzmán and the Sinaloa cartel have inflicted upon Mexico for years.

The billion-dollar wealth and power of Guzmán and the cartel grant them numerous opportunities to infiltrate the local, state and federal police, business and politics in Mexico – leaving little room for justice and representation for the Mexican people. Although the cartel does not take part in visible, large-scale civilian-targeted violence, as has been carried out by rival cartels, innocent lives are taken far too often as a result of the drug war.

Now enters the idea of a twisted, Robin Hood-esque person: Guzmán has received support from many for his ability to create jobs and opportunity for impoverished Mexican communities – something the Mexican government has failed to do.

When poverty, desperation and a lack of opportunity combine, recruits into drug trafficking organizations are the result.

In Sinaloa’s capital of Culiacan, Guzmán and the cartel are thought of as a sort of governmental presence. One that keeps order in maintaining a community in which the poor receives aid and community projects, including paved roads, are funded.

But his Robin Hood-like reputation dissolves at the viciousness of the the drug war in Mexico.

The rise of the cartel threw the Mexican people even more deeply into a ruthless and bloody drug war, in which more than at least 70,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence and more than 26,000 have gone missing from 2006 to 2012.

These connections between the U.S. and drug cartels, corruption in the Mexican government and violent bloodshed must reach those who praise the power of Guzmán and demonize Mexico in its entirety – perpetuating the idea that the Mexican victims of this drug war do not deserve justice.

The actions of one man do not define a nation. The people of the United States must challenge themselves to look beyond the one-dimensional views of Mexico that are force fed to us at our dinner tables, blare on talk radio and trend on Twitter. It is only in this way that the complexity of the drug empire can be broken down, solutions can be reached and the violence can end.